Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Power of Gratitude

I've started watching more TED talks lately -- many on the recommendation of another of my favorite tweeps, Terry Woolard.  The most recent TED talk I've watched was by Adam Grant, and had to do with the effect of gratitude on teacher burnout...and wearing dark suits, but you'd need to watch the video to understand that last bit.

Teaching, particularly in the current political climate, can be an isolating and thankless job -- especially if you teach secondary school, and have contact with far more students for a far shorter amount of time.  (And let's face it, spontaneous gratitude is not part of the general makeup of most teenagers).  "Teacher gifts" at the end of the year and holidays usually become a thing of the past as soon as parents figure out "You want to buy gifts for HOW many teachers?", which is as it should be, because after all, it really is the thought that counts.  And although there have been relatively few true expressions of gratitude I have received in my career, I cherish those I have gotten -- flowers from a student who passed after long hours of remediation, a guidance counselor thanking me for my hard work on behalf of students, an administrator telling me he was impressed with how I handled myself in a meeting with an irate parent.  We all like to think we go the extra mile for selfless reasons but the truth is, it matters when someone notices and says thank you.

Two years ago my school district moved to the PBIS system of student discipline (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports).  At the high school, part of this new system includes paper tickets known as "fist bumps" that are filled out by students or teachers who "catch a student being good".  Yes, there are monthly drawings for small prizes, but I have a hunch that the real prize is the "thank you" that is the fist bump.  The PBIS committee, made up of fabulously enthusiastic educators, had the wisdom to include faculty in the fist bumps, so students and faculty can give fist bumps to faculty as well.  To many of my colleagues it seems kind of silly, I know, but to me, a personalized thank you from a student or colleague -- even for something as simple as always being on time for lunch duty -- means someone is paying attention and, yeah, it matters.

So my challenge to you, as you go through your first weeks of school, is to sincerely thank a colleague for their hard work, or for helping you, or just for being on time. 

It matters.

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